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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Take time to exercise outdoors

The benefits go beyond the physical, to mental and social aspects. Ng Wan Ching reports
The Straits Times - September 18, 2014
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Take time to exercise outdoors Spending time outdoors has health benefits, such as allowing the eye muscles to relax and boosting levels of vitamin D in the body. -- ST FILE PHOTO

There will be games and free goodies on offer.

Technology has become so much a part of life that one can do just about anything exclusively indoors, including exercise.

But there are benefits to exercising outside that make working out indoors not always an obvious choice.

When working out outdoors, you get to experience varied terrain that tax the body in ways that are different from what a machine in a gym would do.

Overall, exercise outside tends to be more strenuous than when it is done indoors.

Studies comparing the exertion of people who run indoors on a treadmill and those who run outdoors show that treadmill runners use less energy for the same distance.

This is mainly because those who exercise indoors face no wind resistance or changes in the terrain. Having to navigate different environments would increase one's energy output.

Another upside is that you work harder when you are outdoors without even realising it.

A recent study in the Extreme Physiology And Medicine journal found that exercising in natural environments may provide benefits such as increasing physical activity levels with lower levels of perceived exertion, said Ms Angela Lim, a physiotherapist at Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

It also helps reduce stress and mental fatigue, and improve mood, self-esteem and perceived health, she added.

If you need more persuasion, a review of existing studies by a team at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry in the United Kingdom confirmed that there were health benefits to exercising in natural environments.

In fact, simply being near nature may be good for you.

A 2009 study looked at the medical records of 345,143 Dutch people to assess their health status for 24 conditions, including cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological diseases. The records were then correlated with how much green space was located within 1km and 3km of each person's home.

Researchers found that those who lived within 1km of a park or a wooded area experienced less anxiety and depression, compared with those who lived farther away from such green spaces.

GOOD FOR BONES AND EYES

Everyone should take time to exercise outdoors, said SGH's principal physiotherapist Felicia Seet.

It helps people to maintain a healthy range of joint motion as well as relax the eye muscles.

Using handheld devices or staring at computers for several hours a day tires the eye muscles that are used for focusing at objects that are a short distance away, said Ms Seet.

Spending time outdoors and looking at objects further away allow the eye muscles to relax, utilise distance vision and may prevent the premature onset of myopia, she added.

It also helps to boost levels of vitamin D in the body. The skin, when exposed to ultraviolet rays from sunlight, produces this vitamin, which, along with calcium, are essential for building strong and healthy bones. Said Ms Seet: "This is particularly important for women who have undergone menopause as they are at higher risk of osteoporosis."

It is much more difficult to get adequate amounts of vitamin D from one's diet alone, she added, so sunlight exposure is the only reliable way to generate the vitamin in one's own body.

As an exercise, walking is great for the heart and circulatory system. As an activity, it is great for one's social skills.

Exercising outdoors in groups allows for more chances of social interaction, said Ms Seet.

Engaging in outdoor activities as a family also provides bonding opportunities. This is particularly important for children as they develop, she said.

MAKE A PLAN WITH FRIENDS

Given Singapore's inhospitable weather - particularly these days when the haze makes the outdoors doubly unwelcome - going outside to exercise may be tricky.

This is where planning an exercise together with friends or family members can help.

It is always easier to stick to an activity when you know others are counting on you, said Ms Seet.

Set the date and mark your calendar immediately. Set the next date after the first outing, she added.

This helps to get the ball rolling and before you realise it, it is part of your weekend routine.

Be creative in your activities and make them fun, said Ms Lim. For example, you can go fly a kite at the Marina Promenade or East Coast Park, or head to the Botanic Gardens for a picnic instead of meeting at a restaurant.

STAY SAFE AND COMFORTABLE

The heat and humidity make it important for one to stay hydrated, pointed out Ms Lim.

If you engage in strenuous sports, have a supply of isotonic drinks to replenish lost minerals.

Wear clothing that is comfortable and does not trap perspiration.

Putting on a cap or a pair of sunglasses and supportive comfortable footwear appropriate for the activity also help to ensure that time spent outdoors remains safe and enjoyable, she said.

To protect the skin from premature ageing caused by exposure to ultraviolet rays, apply sunscreen on the face and other exposed areas, said Ms Seet.

Starting to exercise outdoors may initially be difficult.

"It does take some effort to get started but before you know it, you will be enjoying sunny Singapore while keeping yourself fit, healthy and happy," she said.

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